When Hotmail Lets You Down

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At the public library where I work, a community member from Haiti recently asked me for help recovering his password from his Hotmail account. Apparently his account had been compromised by someone, and he is no longer able to log in to use it. He tells me he has been using this Hotmail account for about eight years. His primary use of the account is to do relief work in Haiti via his church. All of his contact information and his communications with hundreds of people in Haiti is contained in this Hotmail account He is desperate to get back into the account to continue helping the people of Haiti.

Well, together we spent about two to three hours trying to get the password reset. We went through all of the procedures that Microsoft has set up for people to reset their Hotmail password. No luck. Our greatest hope came when Microsoft asked him to describe the contents of his e-mail account.

This is what he wrote:

In my Hotmail account, I've been writing often to people in Haiti about earthquake relief. My emails are mostly in French. I communicate with several dozen churches in Haiti. It's vital that I be in touch with these people to continue the relief work I'm doing.

If you search my email, you will find:

- several letters of recommendation sent to me about my work

- emails from the Dioceses of Bridgeport, Connecticut and West Palm Beach, Florida and San Diego, California and Los Angeles, Houston, Texas

- in the past few months I've seen sending and receiving a lot of emails about cholera (which is spelled the same way in French as it is in English)

- my emails mention water sanitation often

- my emails mention donation of funds for Haitian relief efforts

- the person I sent email most often to is Father Patrick., Father Antonio and Bishop Decoste and Bishop Romelus. When I write to them, I always open my email with the words: "Reverend Father" or "Son Excellence"

- I usually close my emails with my name Jean Louis Jean Presnel (my name has four parts to it)

Thanks for kindly reviewing my account again to see if it it passes your validation criteria.

Guess what? This amount of detail does not pass muster at Microsoft. Or maybe Microsoft just does not have enough staff to review such requests for help.

Here's a solution to the problem. Microsoft, and all other free e-mail service providers, should provide some fee-based service for people to recover their password if their account has been compromised. The community member I'm helping, Jean Louis Jean Presnel, would gladly pay $25 to speak to someone on the phone about having his Hotmail password reset. Considering that it would take no more than 10 minutes for such a phone call to take place, Microsoft ought to provide this service. If they don't voluntarily provide such a fee-based password recovery service, then maybe legislation is needed to require them to do so.

Hotmail and other free e-mail services provide immense value to their users. It also provides substantial income to Microsoft. It doesn't provide them enough income for them to care about individual Hotmail users, though. That needs to change. If it doesn't, we're going to see more and more instances of the kind where this humanitarian community member is locked out of his Hotmail account. This costs human lives in Haiti. That cost is too dear.

Jean Louis Jean Presnel's current Hotmail account (a new one he created just to be able to have an e-mail address) is kingpresnel@hotmail.com . Microsoft ought to contact him pronto to get this straightened out. And soon after, they should set up some fee-based password recovery service. Or, if they prefer, they can let the anguish continue.

Phil Shapiro

The blogger is an educator and community builder in the Washington DC-area. He can be reached at philshapiroblogger@gmail.com and on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/philshapiro

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